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How do you set up a two-story battle map when both stories can interact with the same areas or characters? For example:

  • An outpost with a guard tower with archers on the top floor and melee fighters guarding the door on the ground floor. Both the archers on the top floor and the fighters on the bottom floor can attack the same monsters approaching the outpost.
  • An adventurers’ ship is being attacked by a kraken. Fighters and wizards on deck attack it while crew members below deck operate cannons or the like.

I considered making a separate battle grid for each building level, but where would I put them? The only thing I can think of that would work is to build some kind of scaffold to put the upper level grids on and suspend them above the floor-levels, but that sounds pretty time consuming, especially for structures with multiple levels, like a pirate ship.

I use roll20.net as much as I do a physical tabletop battle grid, so if you know of solutions for either virtual or physical tabletops, I’m interested in both.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @James that sounds like an answer. Why don't you write it as one? \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus Jul 24 '18 at 1:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ It was a very simple and really short answer that doesn't get too detailed, I'm sure it wouldn't of gotten any votes (or maybe even got negative points), plus an answer was already picked \$\endgroup\$ – James Jul 24 '18 at 13:23
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Often in these case you actually don't need to represent areas that are vertically above each other at the same time at all. Not always, but often.

These days I mostly use theater-of-the-mind, with maybe a few sketches to show building layout, which of course avoids the problem altogether. But based on what I learned from when I was using battle-maps, it is worth remembering what the map is actually giving you.

It gives you precise locations for purposes of knowing about the PCs:

  • Movement range, so you know how many turns it takes to get somewhere
  • tactical maneuvers like attacks of opportunity and flanking
  • weapon ranges
  • situational awareness of enemy locations

Notice that I bold the PCs; there is no need to represent stuff about NPC-NPC interaction on the map; since precise information about it will not be known to the PCs except as the last point.

So with that known, you can avoid showing some locations on the map and draw from what we do in the theater of the mind world. Descriptions. You can describe things like "You can hear what sounds like maybe 5 or 6 guards strapping on armour and cussing inside the gate house. Might only be 3 but if so they are loud."

To illustrate with some examples.

An outpost with a guard tower with archers on the top floor and melee fighters guarding the door on the ground floor. Both the archers on the top floor and the fighters on the bottom floor can attack the same monsters approaching the outpost.

Until monsters get inside the walls, you never need to show the melee fighters being below the archers -- if they are engaging with the monsters are the same time as the archers then they must be in-front of the wall (the archers can not shoot directly down through there floor/roof) overshot of battle

Then once the monsters are inside the walls, you don't need to represent the archers on the outside at all anymore. Just draw the inside of the fortification -- remembering to include the stairs and ladders where the archers will emerge.

An adventurers’ ship is being attacked by a kraken. Fighters and wizards on deck attack it while crew members below deck operate cannons or the like.

Here we don't need to represent below deck at all.

If a PC is operating the cannons below deck, just don't show the below-deck area at all.

To address the issues from before:

  • Movement range: Just tell them it will take (say) 1 full turn of movement to get on deck. (Or give it in units of squares if you must.)
  • Tactical maneuvers: There are no melee combatants below deck, so this is fine; and below deck, they are probably safe from all attack. If they are attacked, it isn't really tactical so much as a single event (e.g. "The kraken grabs the cannon and swings it around before ripping it out. Roll Dodge or take X damage"), so a description works better than a mat here anyway.
  • Weapon ranges: The range on a cannon is going to be enough - or it isn't. It isn't like you can maneuver to change it much.
  • Situational awareness of enemy locations: The kraken's location is shown on the overhead map, and that is all that really matters.

Obviously if you have to show two locations, you have to show two locations. I think this is in general a much harder issue with flying characters than it is for multiple floors, since you can't interact through most floors.

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Battlemat

When I DM in person with my players, if the maps are small enough I'll draw them both on the same mat (or in some cases, the same whiteboard), and just number the stair cases or ladders so they know where they go to. If both levels are larger than your mat, then what I do is redraw it once 1 person goes up to the next floor, and if they want to know something about the previous floor, I show them my copy of it.

Roll20

There's a couple things you can do with Roll20. You can change the page size to be able to fit multiple maps on it, or you can create a new page with each floor on it. For the first method, you can cover the map with the Fog tool, then reveal the next floor once someone wants to go to it. For the second method, if you click the button in the top right, you can then drag individual players, or the whole group to another sheet. Using that, you could have say 3 of the party on the 1st floor, while a single one scouts ahead and relays what he sees over text chat or voice chat, without the other players seeing it.

Perspective

With Roll20, by using different pages, you can still have outside of the tower (ie, where the Kraken is or where the archers can see) showing, you'll just know that the inside of the tower is above the ground level. The only hassle with this is, if something happens outside, you'll have to mirror the changes on each sheet. If you have something where all the maps are on one large sheet, just number the sections and have a separate area for the outside. A grid system with letters or numbers could help line this up by marking them on each map section to know where they line up with the corresponding outside section. That same can be done with Battlemats.

Paper

Another in person solution could be to use multiple printouts. Have a larger base one with the outside area, then smaller ones you can place for each floor on top of the current floor. That way, you'll have layers you can go through. This won't work as well if you have players on multiple floors, but I would just space the papers out then, then stack on top of any of the no longer used ones.

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